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'The future of the EPR is British - if we want it'

Former Extinction Rebellion activist Zion Lights is now the UK director of Environmental Progress, which advocates nuclear energy as a way to lift humans out of poverty and and save the natural world. Here we publish her open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, which outlines the importance of Sizewell C.

Dear Prime Minister Boris Johnson,

Britain must build Sizewell C - it sits at the heart of green recovery.

We are writing as engineers, nuclear experts, scientists and concerned citizens to applaud your commitment to fighting climate change through energy policy, in particular the commitment to proceed with new nuclear construction at the same time as focusing innovation on an exciting new advanced reactor programme.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that "it is time for a nuclear renaissance and I believe passionately that nuclear must be part of our energy mix.” We agree.

Although renewable energy is expanding rapidly in the coastal and agricultural ecosystems of Britain, because of its seasonally variable energy output and heavy environmental burden, it is not clear at what point their low-carbon energy can be counted on for future decarbonization and green recovery.

Fortunately, nuclear energy is extremely compact and works year-round, and thus provides a superb way to eliminate carbon emissions while protecting the environment. Luckily, nuclear also provides abundant jobs both in construction and long-term operation, and thus has become an important part of the government’s green recovery proposals.

As an illustration, consider that the recently-proposed Cleve Hill solar farm project in Kent was opposed by both RSPB and Greenpeace on environmental grounds. The UK is not a sunny country, and 75 Cleve Hills would be needed to replace just one plant like the one proposed for Sizewell C, covering 74,000 acres with solar panels. Doubtless Greenpeace will oppose that too.

Nuclear energy has a long history in the UK, as the first commercial electricity from nuclear energy was produced in this country.

The Sizewell nuclear site in Suffolk is already home to Sizewell B and two decommissioned reactors at Sizewell A. Hinkley Point C is proceeding well, on-schedule after 4 years, and new-builds are also envisaged at Moorside and possibly Wylfa in Anglesey. We urge the government to ensure financing and other support arrangements are in place for all these projects to proceed urgently.

In light of the decision by the EU to ban investment in nuclear as part of green recovery, and the decision by France to start closing its nuclear plants prematurely and without offering its reactors for sale on the continent, the UK has a chance to become the leader in Europe on nuclear because of, rather than in spite of, Brexit. While Germany is quietly focusing Europe’s green recovery around Russian natural gas, the UK stands in a position of key leadership to the other nations of Europe such as Poland and Netherlands who have urged Germany to reconsider its obstructive stance on nuclear in the green recovery.

The approval of support for the Sizewell C project, an exact copy of Somerset’s Hinkley Point C, could with a single stroke provide Britain with just over half the energy each year as Germany’s approximately €100 billion solar panel fleet. With Sizewell C lasting up to a century and solar farms lasting a quarter of that, and Sizewell C operating day and night all year long, that’s a deal of exceptional value.

Every country that has ever been successful with “advanced” nuclear has had an experienced and flourishing “traditional” industry.

By building Hinkley Point C, Britain has restarted its dormant nuclear industry. By building Sizewell C, nuclear in Britain will be secured for a decade. By then building Moorside using the same model, nuclear will be secured for a generation. That is the foundation that will allow us to invent a first-of-kind SMR programme.

The UK version of the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) is ready to build today, and fortunately the builders are, as we speak, learning every step of the process at Hinkley Point C. Without a second plant for them to build at Sizewell C, those hard-won engineering skills and experience will evaporate.

History shows that keeping the people who know how to build reactors employed building the next reactors makes nuclear cheaper. History also shows that nuclear ends up belonging to the nation that builds the most and the most recent, and the one delayed EPR project in France does not outweigh the two on-schedule EPRs at Hinkley Point C.

We implore the Government to learn the lessons of both successful and failed nuclear programmes of the past, and keep the growing skills and confidence from Hinkley alive at Sizewell. Only this way will there be a future for commercial SMRs in the country. Otherwise the SMR market will be dominated by the countries who confidently and rapidly build existing nuclear: Russia and China.

EDF does not have any EPR projects going ahead besides those in Britain. This means that if Britain keeps the UK’s EPR version alive, it becomes the new global standard with British sales people, engineers, builders, technicians, and factories. That’s because Sizewell C is already more than three-quarters British, with increasingly complex and important components coming from newly established British suppliers. This all ends if Sizewell does not go ahead.

If Sizewell and Moorside both go ahead, Britain takes a front-running position around the world as the only effective alternative to Russian and Chinese large light-water reactors, the type demanded by serious governments for their nuclear programmes. Britain will also be able to meet its emissions reduction goals.

No country in the world is building more than two EPRs. If Britain builds Sizewell C and Moorside, we will have six.

The future of the EPR is British - if we want it.


Zion Lights, director of Environmental Progress UK


To see the full list of signatories click here.